The View from the Bottom

One day I was visiting a person living on the street in Boston. She was sitting on the sidewalk, leaning up against the wall of a building. A blanket covered her whole body, and all you could really see was her head. So, I was down on the ground myself, talking to her and having a conversation, while people were walking by.

At one point, she stopped, and said, “Did you see that? That man walked by and looked at you and made a disgusting face.” I was busy looking at her, so I hadn’t noticed. She then said, “Do you know that just the other week, some guy came by and threw his food at me. It was pudding or something like that, and it landed just next to me.”

And as we continued to talk, a man walked by in formal work clothes. As he walked by, he said a greeting to her that I didn’t hear, and slipped her some money. She said, “You know, that man works hard every day in the hotel, and every single day when he comes out, he gives me something. No one sees all these things. But I do.”

We can think that being on top gives us vision. If we are top of the mountain, we can see the whole landscape. But with the human heart, it is the opposite. If you want insight into human nature, you can’t be on top.

You need the view from the bottom.

A few years ago, I went to a few churches for the very first time. I don’t go as Missionary Jerome, friend of the priest or official church guy. If I did that, everyone would treat me well. I just walk in anonymous, as the new, lonely guy sitting in the back. At one place, I was completely ignored before, during, and after the Mass. No one responded to my attempts at conversation, and I just went home. At another place, the person sitting next to me talked to me, found out I was missing a candle for the Mass service, and actually got up and got one for me. I know which community is healthier. And it’s because I got the view from the bottom.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus has an insight into human nature: [Jesus] did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well. (Jn 2:26) It’s not because he’s divine and just knows everything. He’s human, too, and he has to learn and grow like all of us. The thing is, he learned from his time growing up on the bottom side of society. He always got the view from the bottom.

If you find yourself at the bottom, on the ground, maybe laid out flat in life at a rock bottom. Or if you feel a desire in your heart to come down to the bottom in life, there is something very special along with all the difficulty that goes with being there. You get to see into hearts, into who God and people really are – and that is very, very valuable for living and loving. You won’t get that when things are going ok or going well in life. You won’t get that from a view from the top, or from any other place except one:

The view from the bottom.

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